Important Communication Skills For Workplace Success (And How To Improve Them)

By Matthew Zane - Jun. 5, 2022
Skills Based Articles

Find a Job You Really Want In

When it comes to listing your skills on a resume, a potential employer isn’t looking for your amazing chef skills, or your rollerblading skills. They want to know how you effectively communicate with others.

In this article we will discuss the importance of communication skills, the types, and how they can be used.

Key Takeaways

  • Knowing how to effectively communicate is a crucial skill that employers are looking for.

  • It’s important to know the different types of communication skills, and when to use them.

  • Being able to improve communication skills can show employers your willingness to learn and advance your career.

What Are Communication Skills?

Communication skills refer to your abilities to give and receive information effectively. Being a good communicator involves a number of different skills (covered below), but there’s a unifying theme between them all: they make working with others much easier and more streamlined.

No matter where you work or what you do, being able to communicate effectively is a crucial skill. Miscommunication is snuffed out early, all team members have aligned goals, and, if an issue does pop up, it’s quickly resolved — that’s the power of solid communication skills.

4 Types of Communication Skills

There are four main types of communication that are used in a professional setting:

  1. Verbal communication: this involves the spoken word. Things like tone, diction, and pacing are all important when you’re a speaker. It’s also about reading your audience and adjusting these things in real-time to make yourself better understood.

    Being an effective verbal communicator is also about being a good listener. It doesn’t matter if you give the most eloquent speech in the world if you haven’t responded to the right elements of your partner’s end of the conversation.

    Skills in verbal communication are especially vital for anyone who regularly performs tasks over the phone because you don’t get the same nonverbal cues that folks who meet face-to-face have. Still, almost every job involves talking to people at some point, whether it’s supervisors, employees, colleagues, distributors, or clients.

  2. Nonverbal communication: this involves body language. Things like posture, eye contact, gestures, handshakes, and facial expressions are all part of nonverbal communication.

    Listeners take all this into account when they’re in the process of parsing out the information you’re delivering. A confident stance, direct eye contact, and a relaxed face will exhibit confidence and make listeners more prone to accept the spoken information.

    Nonverbal communication skills are difficult to show off on a resume or cover letter, so you’ll have to wait for the interview stage to show off your acuity.

  3. Written communication: this involves the written word. This could range from letters/emails, notes, or texts.

    While you may think written communication falls under the nonverbal category, most HR managers differentiate between the two, seeing as written communication plays such a large role in day-to-day operations at most companies.

    Excellent talent in written communication is easy to show off on a resume and cover letter. If you can persuade hiring managers that you’re a top candidate based on nothing but these documents, you’ve proved you have a knack for written communication.

  4. Visual communication: this usually delivers information, points and messages by graphical representations or visual aids. Some examples are slide presentation, physical models, drawings or illustrations.

    When this is used with verbal, nonverbal and written communications, it creates an effective way for your message to be heard and understood.

How to Showcase Your Communication Skills

Knowing you should put down some communication skills is fine and dandy, but how do you demonstrate to employers that you really are a great communicator? Well, the job-hunt itself is a test of your communicative abilities, so keeping your resume and cover letter clear and concise is your first goal.

Some soft skills, like being an expert reader of body language, are tough to convey on a job application. But others, like written communication, being a force for constructive criticism, and the ability to persuade others, are not only easy to show off on your resume or cover letter, but can be backed up with quantifiable examples.

For example, something like “developed training materials for new hires, reducing onboarding time by 20%.” Take stock of your achievements and reflect on how your communicative abilities played a part, then accentuate those characteristics throughout the job application process.

Top Communication Skills

Here are some of the top communication skills that hiring managers want to see in your cover letter and resume:

  1. Active listening. Practicing active listening is the first step in being a great communicator. It’s all too common for people to listen with the intent to reply rather than to understand.

    A great communicator hears the concerns, questions, and directives of their co-workers and superiors, and can make decisions based on an accurate understanding of the situation.

    It’s pretty simple: if you don’t understand what others are saying, you’re not going to be able to give them what they want. An active listener asks questions when clarification is needed and adjusts their way of speaking based on whom they’re speaking to and the situation at hand.

  2. Presenting. Having friendly conversations with your colleagues is one thing, delivering presentations that wow audiences is quite another. Good presentation skills involve elements of nonverbal communication (good posture, eye contact with audience members, etc.) to demonstrate confidence.

    The ability to hold people’s attention by making a presentation interesting or humorous while also being informative is very valuable. Showing that you have mastery over presentation software looks good on a resume, but your real chance to show off your presentation skills comes in the interview.

  3. Training. Being a leader in training sessions requires many different communication skills. You must be comfortable with public speaking, know how to keep your audience engaged, and be able to convey information accurately and clearly.

    If you’ve led training sessions in the past, then that’s a great thing to include on a resume or cover letter to highlight your communication skills.

  4. Team building. Being able to share ideas and work collaboratively with a team are essential traits for anyone who has to work closely with their co-workers. While managing a team shows leadership skills, being an effective team member who thinks first of what’s best for the company is an equally important skill.

  5. Negotiation. While negotiation skills are obviously important in things like law and sales, good negotiating tactics are also important in any situation that requires compromise.

    If you can accurately read a situation and address the needs of everyone, you’re more likely to come up with an equitable and well-received policy. Both clearly stating demands and listening for points on which you have to compromise are parts of effective negotiation.

  6. Leadership. Being a good leader means communicating in a way that projects confidence and motivates others. Good leaders take into account the skillsets, needs, and work styles of their team members.

    No matter what job you’re applying for, businesses are always looking for potential leaders in their ranks, so definitely include any leadership roles you’ve had on your resume.

  7. Nonverbal cues. Nonverbal cues are about both being heard and making others feel heard.

    If you’re not making eye contact with your conversational partner or, worse, you’re rolling your eyes, then they’re going to feel disrespected. What you do with your posture and your hand gestures will change how people interpret your spoken communication.

    Think of verbal communication as the lyrics to a song and nonverbal communication as the rhythm: it doesn’t matter if the words are good because if the rhythm is out of whack, people still won’t like what they’re hearing.

  8. Phone calls. We know it’s 2021, but being able to hold an effective phone conversation is still a vital skill in business.

    While some roles, like sales and customer service representatives, will require greater acuity on the phone than others, it’s still nice to have an employee who doesn’t get tongue-tied every time they have to take a phone call.

  9. Internet communication. The pandemic has really shined a light on who has top-notch internet communication skills and who doesn’t.

    Being a good internet communicator isn’t just about being fluent in web-based communication platforms (although that certainly is an important part of it). It’s also about being agile in responses, clear and concise in written queries or answers, and knowing when not to speak on group calls.

  10. Writing. We’ve already touched on written communication, but it’s important enough to include it again. If you’re part of a team, it doesn’t really matter if you have the best ideas and grasp on the project’s goals if you can’t convey that information to your teammates.

    Poor writing creates gaps in understanding and limits the efficiency of any project by creating confusion and misaligned goals.

    As you improve your writing skills, you’ll have an easier time organizing your thoughts and speaking more accurately. Here’s a quote from George Orwell that sums it up: “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”

  11. Choosing the appropriate medium. The importance of this skill cannot be underestimated. We all know you shouldn’t break up with a partner by text, and you should practice the same empathy in your professional communications.

    Determining what information is best shared through email, phone call, text, or face-to-face meeting is an important part of being a good communicator. It’s also important to consider the recipient’s preferences.

  12. Clarity and concision. There are two big traps among people trying to sound smart: using big words and using too many words. You shouldn’t let trying to sound smart get in the way of being understood.

    If you ramble on with a bunch of unnecessary information, the important meaning you’re trying to convey will get lost in a sea of BS. Or, worse, people will start tuning you out entirely. Often, the shortest, simplest message conveys the greatest amount of undiluted information.

  13. Giving/Accepting feedback. Feedback is a two-way street, and both parties have a job to fulfill. A person giving feedback should aim to keep it constructive and diplomatic — no rants or passive-aggressive jabs. It’s important to be honest and call people out, but it’s equally important to maintain your relationships.

    When you’re on the receiving end of feedback, it’s important to practice that active listening we touched on earlier. It can be tough hearing negative feedback about yourself, but taking the time to reflect on what others say about you is a crucial part of improving, not just as an employee, but as a human being.

  14. Empathy. This might be a tough one to fit into your resume, but practicing empathy will make you an all-around more likable individual. Listening is the first step, but being truly empathetic involves seeing things from someone else’s perspective.

    If you start from a place of empathy, all of your other communicative abilities will instantly improve. You’ll be able to predict how others will feel about some information you need to communicate, and therefore adjust the form of that communication to make others feel positive about it.

  15. Open-mindedness. Being open-minded is about showing respect to everyone with whom you communicate and being patient when their way of thinking doesn’t align with yours.

    Never dismiss someone’s opinions on the spot and you’ll have healthier relationships with everyone at work. Empathy and open-mindedness together make up emotional intelligence, which is every bit as important as regular intelligence in your professional life.

Tips for Improving Communication Skills

Putting in the effort to strengthen your communication skills will enhance your resume and benefit your career (not to mention your personal life). Like any soft skill, there’s always room to improve your communicative abilities.

Start by taking stock of what you’re naturally good at. Ask friends, family, or colleagues – you might be surprised to hear where they believe your strengths lie. Then consider some difficult moments at work and think of how poor communication (yours or your colleagues) led to disastrous results. Contemplate which communicative skills could have resolved that situation in a better way.

Here are some actionable tips to start improving your communication skills right away:

  • Consider your audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant orator in the world; if you don’t pay attention to your audience’s interests and abilities, your words are going to fall flat.

  • Study nonverbal cues. If you’re trying to have a conversation with someone who keeps looking at their phone/watch/anywhere but you, take the hint and try changing up your tactics.

  • Ask questions. Most people’s favorite topic is themselves. Get them talking about their favorite subject and they’re apt to like you more. Don’t just ask though. Actually listen to their answers and respond in a way that shows interest.

  • Watch and learn. You probably admire people in your life for the ability to communicate well. Some are great at breaking bad news, while others have a knack for teaching and explaining.

    Whatever aspect of your communication you’re hoping to improve, start paying attention to those around you who seem to have mastered the trick. Observe closely and note what it is about their style that makes them such effective communicators.

  • Get feedback. The direct route to self-improvement involves inviting a bit of constructive criticism. Ask your supervisor, coworkers, or friends where you could improve your communication skills.

    Just be sure to go in with an open mind and not get defensive if you hear something you don’t like.

  • Be deliberate. If you’re improving your communication skills for your job, make a plan and stick to it. For example, you might decide to start answering your emails at a more regular frequency, keep your Slack messages shorter and more to-the-point, or contribute more meaningful input during team meetings.

    Whatever your goal is, write it down and keep it somewhere visible as a reminder. Being mindful of how you interact will help you recognize patterns in your behavior that offer avenues to further improve your communication skills.

  • Pratice. Practicing your communication just takes you and at least one other person. That means you can pretty much also be working at it. Attend events where you’re forced to chat with strangers, start keeping a journal or writing a blog, or step up to present when the opportunity arises at work.

    With the right mindset and goals, you’ll start improving your communication skills in no time.

Examples of Communication skills

  1. On a Resume:

    Communication skills are, by and large, soft skills. Soft skills are hard to simply list in your resume’s skills section because there’s no way to prove that you truly possess them.

    That’s why we recommend infusing your resume’s work experience section with achievements relating to communication. Our most important tip is to start by carefully reading the job description. Look for what communication skills are especially important for the role by finding what words and phrases are repeated or otherwise emphasized.

    Then, consider your past professional accomplishments that relate to these desired skills. For example, if the job you’re applying for involves writing newsletters, it’s valuable to bring up your proficiency with drafting professional marketing materials.

    Most importantly, use numbers whenever you can. Hiring managers and recruiters love to see the context of your achievements and the direct impact that your efforts had. Let’s take a look at this in action:

    • Increased client retention rate by 9% by delivering weekly client presentations using PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Zoom

    • Responded to 200+ email queries and 20+ phone queries daily, achieving a customer satisfaction rating of 99.8%

    • Wrote, maintained, and updated onboarding materials for new customer service reps, reducing onboarding time by 18%

  2. On a Cover Letter:

    While your resume answers the recruiter’s basic questions about you (who, what, where, when), a cover letter answers the “how” and “why” of your professional life. As such, it’s a bit easier to work your soft skills, like communication, into your cover letter.

    Remember to touch on key points from the job description to show that you’re paying attention. Then, just as you did with your resume, showcase things you’ve achieved due to your stellar communication skills.

    Dear Ms. Trent,

    When I saw a Customer Service Manager position open up at XYZ Inc., I knew I had to apply. With over 6 years of experience helping satisfy clients through empathetic communication, I believe I’d make an excellent addition to your team.

    During my time working as a Customer Service Representative at ABC Corp., I learned that actively listening to customer’s needs is the most important part of the process. When I noticed that several customer complaints and issues were taking up 90% of the representative’s time, I drafted a helpful FAQ for the website’s customer queries page. Customer calls dropped by over 32%, and satisfaction with the resources on our website increased by 22%.

    Some of my other proudest achievements during my time at ABC Corp. include:

    • Developed and updated training materials for new Customer Service Representatives, and offered weekly training sessions to mentor 6-12 reps, reducing onboarding and training time by 12%

    • Produced and delivered presentations to Marketing and Product teams to streamline and align our goals, reducing turnaround time on projects by 8%

    • Won “Customer Success Employee of the Month” in February 2019 for expertly resolving a client dispute that maintained an account worth over $50k annually

    Managing customers and the teams that satisfy them is a passion of mine that I excel at. I also donate my time to consulting a local non-profit organization on customer relationship management, so I was pleased to see that XYZ is also dedicated to mutual aid projects.

    Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I look forward to meeting to further discuss how my knack for communication and resolution can be an asset for the XYZ Inc. team.

    Jodi Beller

  3. In a Job Interview:

    When it comes to showing off your communication skills, the job interview is your chance to really shine. The interview itself is a test of your ability to calmly, accurately, and pleasantly communicate information.

    That being said, some questions are specifically designed to gauge your communication skills. Many of these questions will be behavioral interview questions, which just means that the interviewer will be asking about your past performance in a given situation.

    Hiring managers love these questions because they can predict your future behavior based on what you’ve done in the past. To answer behavioral interview questions, use the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, and it’s a handy way to organize short and compelling stories that address the heart of the interviewer’s questions.

    Let’s look at the STAR method in action, as an interviewee answers questions about their communication abilities:

    Have you ever had to sell your coworkers on an idea? How did you go about it?

    When I noticed that we were spending upwards of half our budget on Facebook ads but receiving less than a quarter of our traffic from it, I brought the idea to my team. Their feeling was that it was a new venture for us and that it would pay off eventually, but I dug deeper. I found that, worse than the low traffic, conversions from Facebook were next to nil. I then looked into our Instagram traffic and found that we were converting at our highest rates there.

    I brought my team the idea of cutting Facebook ads spending entirely and doubling down on Instagram. I created a presentation using Google Slides and delivered it over a Zoom meeting. When I brought hard data and a vision for how to leverage Instagram further, my team acquiesced. We saw our spending on advertising drop by nearly 30%, while traffic went up 12% and conversions by 22%.

  4. How do you explain a complex topic to a person who has no experience with it?

    I’m a big believer in the power of metaphors. At my last job, I was helping out a client with a digital marketing campaign, and he had no idea where to start or any of the terminology. I explained that landing pages where you make the sale are like the bottom of a funnel. Content marketing helps get people into the top of the funnel, while signing them up for an email newsletter moves them further down and closer to a conversion.

    By creating a visual diagram of all the various stages of marketing and sales, he was able to start coming up with his own ideas for how to make it work for his business. It was really exciting seeing that the ideas had clicked to an extent where he was able to extrapolate and strategize. With a few minor tweaks and a definitive online marketing plan in place, his business started growing at a rapid clip — traffic itself was up over 30% in the first 3 months after implementing changes.

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Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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